By Kristen Gunn
Feast of St. Mark
A Reading from Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11
1 My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for testing.
2 Set your heart right and be steadfast,
and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.
3 Cling to him and do not depart,
so that your last days may be prosperous.
4 Accept whatever befalls you,
and in times of humiliation be patient.
5 For gold is tested in the fire,
and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.
6 Trust in him, and he will help you;
make your ways straight, and hope in him.
7 You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
do not stray, or else you may fall.
8 You who fear the Lord, trust in him,
and your reward will not be lost.
9 You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.
10 Consider the generations of old and see:
has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken?
Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected?
11 For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
he forgives sins and saves in time of distress.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of “testing” (2:1) and temptation as undesirable. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, after all, we ask not to be led into temptation — or at least into the kind that has no escape. But the kind of temptation that does present us with a choice to do good can also be a strange kind of gift. As Ben Sira tells his “child” in today’s passage from Ecclesiasticus, the person who intends to come forward to serve the Lord ought to prepare for just this sort of testing.
Why is that? Why does there seem to be an intrinsic link between deepening ministry and temptation or suffering, as there was for the Lord in the 40 days between his baptism and public ministry, and as is so well attested in the New Testament (see, for example, James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:2-5)?
Our actions form us. They don’t just show who we are (though they do that, too); they actually make us who we are, little by little. As Gregory of Nyssa wrote poignantly in his Life of Moses, through our actions we become “in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions.”
It’s exactly here, in temptation, that we either respond to the grace offered us in Christ and become more like God, or don’t. It’s here, in temptation, that we actually learn to serve the Lord in his own strength, that one day, as Augustine put it, he might crown “his own gifts.” It’s here that we’re able to offer to the one who made us the true ministry our hearts yearn to give.
I hope you and I both recognize the potential gift in front of us next time we’re in temptation. Here is a door by which to enter more deeply into the mystery of God, by loving him.
Kristen Gunn is a student at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, where she is happily plucking away at an M.T.S. She has a B.A. in religion and linguistics, and loves dancing in the patristics section of the library when she thinks she is alone.
To receive a TLC Daily Devotional in your inbox each morning, click here.
Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Lagos Mainland – The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Providence, R.I.